Are you frustrated with dial-up Internet service? Are you stuck in an area where you have no other options for Internet connection? Are your neighbors also ready to throw up their hands in disgust over having their Internet connection disrupted repeatedly, or having to go off and do other things while they wait for their computer to download or upload information? Are you wondering if there are in fact any other options for you for Internet service?
Many rural areas of the country do not have access to broadband Internet service, except for possibly through satellite. Depending on the region where one lives, this could be a viable option, but in Michigan, where I live, the weather conditions often interfere with satellite Internet connections, and this service ends up being no better than dial-up (and for a much more expensive price).
According to an article in the July 2010 edition of the Hightower Lowdown, which discussed the issue of “net neutrality,” 46 percent of American homes still do not have access to broadband Internet service, in spite of the fact that in 1996 the Telecommunications Act gave the big telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon federal subsidies to bring fiber optic lines to each home to make such access available. And, in a recent communication from one of the local school districts in our area, the superintendent stated that two years ago a survey was done of broadband Internet access in our area, and over 45 percent of homes had no access to this service; this is a major stumbling block for students, who are increasingly dependent on Internet access to do research for school projects. Those who do not have broadband are not able to keep up with students who do have access, which is not fair at all.
If this is also the case where you live, what can you do to change the situation? Is calling the different Internet service providers and more or less begging them to bring this service into your area an option? Or is there more to it than that?
Unfortunately, I have found from my own experience that no, it is not as simple as repeatedly calling AT&T (or Charter, or Comcast, or whomever else may be advertising their broadband service in your area) and telling them you want high-speed Internet service. There is much, much more to solving the problem of lack of broadband service in your area. It takes people banding together, from neighbors to local government agencies to businesses, schools, and surrounding townships, to do research and find out what resources and assets are available to attract Internet service providers (ISPs) to their area.
Setting up a task force of concerned citizens/ business people/ local government agencies is essential to get the ball rolling. Go to local government officials and find out the proper procedure for setting up a task force; let them know that the citizens are concerned about this issue and want action taken to bring broadband service into the area, and ask for their support.
It is a good idea for those on the task force to understand what the different terms regarding broadband technology means. Explaining terms such as bandwidth (the amount of data able to be transferred over a particular connection), the speeds different services can handle, the different kinds of connections available (dial-up, broadband over power lines, digital subscriber lines, fiber optic lines, satellite, WiFi), is important, and these things should also be explained to the residents in the area as well when the task force goes to the general public to gather information as to who is interested in obtaining broadband Internet service.
The task force should also outline reasons as to why broadband services are necessary in their area. For instance, as mentioned before, schools now are requiring students to be able to access the Internet in order to do research, reports, and other school-related work, and those who have only slow dial-up service are at a great disadvantage compared to those who can get information quickly. Businesses are also increasingly dependent on Internet service that is fast and reliable, and many people who work from home need this service. Government is also reliant on Internet services that are fast and efficient. Having broadband Internet service declared as an “essential service” in one’s community will help the cause; it truly has become as essential as electricity and running water in today’s society.
For those who just want Internet service for email, broadband is much more preferable to dial-up from a time savings perspective. It is maddening to have to wait for minutes on end to get through even one email, and if the connection keeps getting dropped that is even more frustrating. Dial-up is a huge time-waster and also can cause one’s blood pressure to rise out of frustration (not to mention tempt one to release a barrage of words not normally expressed in polite conversation!).
Once a task force is set up of community residents, local government officials, local business people, and preferably some Internet techies/ISP employees who can give knowledgeable suggestions to those less informed, research needs to be done. A survey to be sent to the residents/businesses in the affected area needs to be drawn up in order to find out what the demand for broadband services is in that area. This survey should include information on broadband options and terminology, and reasons why it is felt broadband services are needed in the area. Questions should include why the person taking the survey would like broadband service (for business use, school, job search, etc.), what they would be willing to pay monthly for such a service, their address, and a deadline for people to return the survey to the task force. To see an example of such a survey, click here. Once on the website referenced, click on the link regarding what the task force in Barry County, Michigan has done.
Another area that needs to be researched is local community assets such as towers, utility poles, buildings, etc. Such assets can be used in supporting broadband equipment, and those who own such assets can often get their broadband service for free or at a reduced cost in exchange for allowing the Internet service provider the use of those assets.
Figuring out the size of the broadband network, finding out what local Internet service providers (ISPs) are in the area, and mapping the area for who has access to broadband and who does not are all important things to find out. Household density is also needed information. Determining who should own/run the broadband network is also something to be considered.
Another thing to be looked into is funding for the project. Local governments can buy and own the network and have someone else operate it. Grants and corporate sponsors, and public/private partnerships are other options for funding.
Asking questions of different ISPs is also important in determining who would best provide the broadband services necessary. Some questions would be regarding connection speeds, how long the company has been in business and how many subscribers they have, what kind of tech support do they offer, monthly pricing, and whether any on-site equipment needs to be installed at the customer’s residence.
For more in-depth information on the topics discussed above, click here.
Where I live, the effort to expand broadband Internet service in the area originally started as two townships being involved; it has now grown to five townships involved, and the county Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance are also backing up the task force in its efforts to get broadband throughout our county. Realtors and our community school district are also backing this effort up. The more people involved, the better the chances are of a positive outcome in getting broadband service to everyone in the area. Surveys are being prepared to be mailed out to residents in the next few weeks; it is going to be interesting to see what the results are, but I am predicting overwhelming support for broadband expansion. After going over survey results, we will be ready to go on to the next step.
As you can see, bringing broadband service into an area is not something that happens overnight; it takes a lot of thought, discussion, and research, and the coming together of many people, to make it happen. So if you live in an area where broadband Internet service has not become a reality, but you know there is considerable desire on the part of the people to bring it into your area, get the ball rolling. You can make it happen, with the right information and the right support from the right people.
Resources: www.connectmi.org, www.barrycounty.org, my own involvement on the Irving Township Broadband Internet task force.